The Other Wes Moore: Opportunities Seized and Lost

Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore, learned about a man who shared his name when both men were featured on the same page of a Baltimore Sun newspaper in 2000: one in an announcement about the latest class of Rhodes Scholars, the other in a crime story about the botched robbery that landed him in prison for life.

Haunted by the story of the criminal with his name, Moore wrote to the other Wes Moore in prison, eventually visiting him and forming a relationship. After their meeting, the author was struck by just how much the two men had in common, and by the fragility of the choices and turns of fate that changed the trajectories of their lives.

As the author says, “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

Both men grew up without a father, and had run-ins with the law as adolescents. But after the author’s family moved to the Bronx, his mother sent him to military school, where he excelled, ultimately graduating from Johns Hopkins University and becoming the school’s first African-American Rhodes Scholar. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he now works as an investment professional in New York.

Meanwhile, the other Wes Moore became a drug dealer in his teens, and was a father of four by age 21. Just before author Wes Moore graduated from college, the other Wes Moore joined his brother and two others in a jewelry store robbery that ended with the fatal shooting of an off-duty police officer. Wes received a sentence of life in prison for his role in the robbery. Still in his early 30’s, he is now a grandfather with no likelihood of parole.

Wes Moore (the author) doesn’t believe that there was one single thing that set him on a different path than the other Wes. But a series of events showed that people supported and cared about him, and offered him an environment in which he could grow and make positive choices. For example, his mother made the difficult decision (and necessary financial sacrifices) to send Wes to military school, and an admissions officer at Johns Hopkins made a personal connection during an interview that led to his college acceptance and also scholarships that made his attendance possible. Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, a former Rhodes Scholar Wes interned for, counseled him to apply for his own Rhodes Scholarship.

Moore’s story reaffirms what we hear from CSF Scholars and their families. A scholarship that allows a child to enter private school is often the first step in a new direction, opening the doors to more scholarships for high school and college, and placing vulnerable, at-risk children in environments where they are guided by mentors and offered new opportunities. (For example, you can read more about Hansel López, whose CSF scholarship led to a high school scholarship and a mentoring program that in turn led to his admittance and graduation from Cornell University last year.) Parents who make the choice to apply to CSF, like Wes Moore’s mother, must make their own financial sacrifices, but they tell us again and again that they will do whatever they need to do to provide a good education for their children.

As Moore says of his mother’s decision to send him to military school, “I was at a crucial juncture in my life. These forks in the road can happen so fast for young boys; within months or even weeks, their journeys can take a decisive and possibly irrevocable turn. With no intervention – or the wrong intervention – they can be lost forever.”

Moore’s compelling story reminds us how the choices a young person makes, and the opportunities they are given, can alter their lives permanently.

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